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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Avoiding Blindness in Photography - Part 2: Shadows and Highlights

Last week we talked about the way our eyes, once they become accustomed to a certain situation (in our case: seeing photos a certain way), tend to accept flaws, considering less-than-ideal photos as normal. In particular, last week we talked about white balance.

Today we will continue with another technical issue that can cause this kind of metaphorical blindness in the way we see photos. More specifically, today we will talk about shadows and highlights, and the way we set the camera to handle them. Essentially we're talking about the curve of the camera (that is, the given settings). A "vivid" setting will have a sharper curve, with deeper shadows and brighter highlights, while a "portrait" or "neutral" setting will have a flatter curve, with brighter shadows and darker highlights (compared to a "vivid" setting, that is).

Shadows and highlights, put simply, sometimes need to be blocked/blown

The problem is, you can't just set "vivid" and take photos of colorful flowers or "portrait" for photos of people. These are only starting points; generic settings that, at least in some cases, are supposed to give you the desired result. But not all scenes are the same, and not all photographers are the same either.

To add to the complexity, there are all kinds of blogs, websites, - heck, I once even saw it in an official Nikon tweet - that tell you: "don't blow the highlights", "watch the highlights", "watch the histogram". Well, I'd once asked you not to be a histogram slave, telling you that:
Composition doesn't care about histograms; it doesn't care about shadows and highlights. As far as composition is concerned, the only thing that matters is balance and dynamics. Contrast (in terms of juxtaposition), patterns, relations, and virtual flows. If an element (whether it becomes blocked as shadows or blown as highlights) is either minor in the scene or, alternatively, it actually serves the composition by being blocked/blown [...]then this is what matters. Not a "perfect" histogram.

So, with that in mind, let's take a look at our case study.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Avoiding Blindness in Photography - Part 1: Auto White Balance

The title of this article might take you by surprise. "What on earth", you might say, "can I get blind while I'm taking photos?! And what does auto white balance have to do with it?"

First things first: About the only way you can get eye damage while taking photos is if you look (long enough) at the sun through the viewfinder. Not really likely. The title is used, surprise-surprise, metaphorically.

In this context, "avoiding blindness" means to avoid becoming accustomed to an undesired situation. Repeating an error long enough, and it no longer feels like an error. Our eyes (there is a reason I picked this metaphor) have an admirable ability to getting used to the way a scene (or photos) look like, assuming that it is the proper one and there is nothing wrong with it.

White balance is a critical element in
getting the affect you intended

Crucially, sometimes we might have a hunch something's not right, but we can't pinpoint the source of our displeasure. How many times have you been looking at your photos thinking "why on earth doesn't this look right?", being unable to find the reason?

I decided to write a series of articles focusing on technical aspects (part 1 is about auto white balance) that can often lead to this kind of blindness, that is, our inability to understand something's not right with our photos - or, if we do, we're unable to pinpoint its source.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Learn to See and Anticipate in Photography - Part 2

Last week we saw how important - indeed, pivotal - experiencing is, if great images are to be achieved. It's not important how many megapixels your camera has, nor is it meaningful to worry over your camera's dynamic range. Getting out and seeing the world, being present in the moment, is more than important: it is imperative.

Furthermore, last week I shared with you my thinking process behind making a photo, to show you the value of not only seeing a scene, but also anticipating it. Great images are made when you know what will happen in the next few moments, because this allows you to be there (appropriate settings already dialed in) to take the shot.

In today's second part, we'll see the second photographic example, portraying this very fact, namely anticipating. The particular focus, today, will also be on learning to adapt your anticipation in rapidly changing situations.